San Diego Streetcar Dream Closer to Reality
May 28, 2011
We love volunteer-driven efforts. Why not? That’s really how the F-line got started more than a quarter-century ago. Now, after a ton of work, a collaboration between a transit agency and a non-profit group (hey, just like here) is about to begin enhancing another California city’s downtown.
We talked about this two years ago, and just last week, they rolled out their first finished streetcar, No. 529, which as No. 1122, served the J, K, L, M, and N Muni lines for 25 years starting in 1957 (it ran its first 11 years in St. Louis, where it was built). Title to the streetcar was formally transferred from the non-profit to the transit agency on May 26. As early as mid-July, it will become the first PCC to operate in San Diego since 1949 (its number was chosen to extend the sequence of the original PCCs, which topped out at No. 528).
Initial operation will be weekends and holidays only on a clockwise circulator line around downtown San Diego, linking Petco Park (the Padres’ home) the convention center, Gaslamp Quarter, waterfront, the commuter/Amtrak train depot, and the main shopping districts. It will use the existing “San Diego Trolley” (actually light rail) tracks and overhead (which explains the ghastly pantograph on the roof of No. 529). Much credit belongs to San Diego Vintage Trolley, Inc., headed by Harry Mathis.
The tireless volunteer efforts of Harry, project manager Dave Slater, and their volunteer team (which includes several Market Street Railway members) have earned much needed political support, including a local city council member, Nick Gloria, who represents the North Park district on the far side of Balboa Park from the Silver Line. That neighborhood was once served by PCCs running from downtown through Balboa Park, and the council member would like to see history repeat it himself. He recently posted photos of the renovated PCC to his Facebook page.
No. 529 reproduces the message carried on San Diego’s original PCCs, promoting the streetcar as a way to reach Balboa Park and the zoo. Boosters hope this nostalgia becomes fact in a few years with a streetcar extension through the park. (Muni’s homage to San Diego, PCC No. 1078, doesn’t carry the Balboa Park message because we have a park of that name of our own, but the F-line doesn’t serve it, except on trips to and from the carbarn.)
To make the line really useful, they need more streetcars, and Mathis and company know it. They have two more ex-Muni 1100 class cars (all of which were purchased from a collector in South Lake Tahoe) and three other PCCs from other venues that are restorable. They’re hoping that putting No. 529 into service will spur fundraising for additional restorations.
By the way, just as they’ve taken ex-Muni streetcars and put them into San Diego livery for you, so we have honored San Diego by restoring a streetcar that spent its earlier life in different cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul and Newark, NJ). No. 1078 is now getting rewired but will be back on the F-line soon. We did learn something from the San Diego folks, by the way. The roof is actually supposed to be a rusty red instead of the brown we used. We’ll see if we can tweak that when No. 1078 needs repainting.